Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Rundown: The Offseason Look at the Houston Texans Outside Linebackers

A closer look at the Houston Texans outside linebackers heading into the 2016 season.

Outside Linebackers 

Under Contract 

Name Notes
Tony Washington Jr. Spent time with the Texans during training camp after being signed as a rookie free agent out of Oregon. Moved between OLB and ILB. Brought back late in the season to the practice squad, signed a reserves/futures contact after the season. 
Gerald Rivers A veteran edge player who has a little NFL game experience. Signed a reserves/futures contract. 
Carlos Thompson One of the three rookie free agents to make the team out of training camp. Thompson was a college defensive end at Ole Miss but made the transition to OLB. Played special teams before landing on the I.R. with a wrist injury. 
Brian Peters One of the impact additions for the Texans mid-season. Led the special teams unit 17 tackles and set the tone for a unit that was struggling. His presence on the field was appreciated by many and was a key piece of the turnaround in 2015. 
Whitney Mercilus Had a breakout season in the sack category but Mercilus has been trending up since last season. 50 total tackles with 12 sacks and 14 tackles for loss, Mercilus is a key piece of the Texans defense moving forward. 
Jadeveon Clowney Missing three games including the WC game with ankle, back and foot injuries, Clowney had a mixed bag in terms of his first full playing season in the NFL. When Clowney was on the field, his presence was felt especially be other teams. He brings a different speed to the edge and he showed he can be a handful to deal with. 4.5 sacks and 8 tackles for loss might not be enough for most, but there was enough shown on tape to call it a productive season. 

Gerald Rivers and Tony Washington, Jr. were added late in the season and were given reserve/futures contract. Washington spent time with the team during camp and bounced between outside and inside linebacker. Both could be expendable before training camp arrives. 

Carlos Thompson made the team out of camp an a rookie free agent. He is a raw athletic specimen who showed up on special teams early for the Texans. Thompson landed on the injured reserve with a wrist injury and did not give the Texans a very good look at him during game action. One thing is for sure, nothing is set in stone for Thompson and he will have to win over his spot once again when the team reports back. 

Brian Peters is added into this group, even though he is primarily a special teams player. Peters worked some at outside linebacker but luckily the team never had to use him there. The impressive thing for Peters was him racking up 17 special teams tackles in 12 games. He was another solid addition off a practice squad (Minnesota Vikings) who made an instant difference. Peters still has two years left with the Texans and he could be a mainstay for some time if he continues to play the way he did in his first season with the team. 

Whitney Mercilus had a breakout season with the Texans but his growth as a player really started mid-season of 2015. His ability to set the edge and rush the passer has made Mercilus a complete three down edge presence for the Texans. Mercilus can play the run and he is disciplined in his approach, which makes him tough to run against. He does what the team asks him to do and that goes for lining up outside or inside of the defense. When Jadeveon Clowney was sidelined, he really made his mark in the sack department, where he and J.J. Watt became the first duo in franchise history with double digit sacks. Add in the fact that the Texans locked up Mercilus with an extension prior to this season and all arrows are pointing up for Mercilus.

Not enough was or has been said about what it took for Jadeveon Clowney to get back on the field after major knee surgery in 2014. At one point of the season, Clowney looked like one of the best defensive players for the Texans. This season was still considered his rookie season and his body was not in optimal football shape given the previous season's focus on rehabbing his knee. Clowney was nicked up with ankle, lower back, and foot injuries that caused him to miss games and he is well aware that he has to be on the field to make a difference. Clowney showed against the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills on what he can be as a player, and this offseason is a big one in his overall development. As a second year player, Clowney is further along in his game than most give him credit for and other NFL offenses are taking notice, trying to ensure they account for him every time. Just like Mercilus, the arrow is pointing up for the former #1 overall draft pick.  

Free Agents

Name Notes
John Simon Five sacks and 49 total tackles, Simon is a solid third piece to the OLB group. He will do the dirty work wherever RAC has him. He can also contribute on special teams which makes him a solid roster player. 

A solid pickup off the Baltimore Ravens practice squad in 2014 when the Texans ran into injury issue, Simon was a primary reason why the Texans opted to let Brooks Reed walk during the 2015 off season. Simon has shown he can handle the edges but his lack of speed and quickness can create some issues like in the Buffalo game from this past season. 

Simon is much better in a specific role and he shined as the defender that did the dirty work in the dime defense on the interior. He ran stunts well with others and created some much needed pressure up the middle. 

For what it will cost to bring back Simon, his contract numbers make too much sense to bring him back. 

Offseason Overview 

The outside linebacker position group could be the same group for two consecutive seasons if John Simon is given a restricted tender. That would leave Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney, and Simon at the primary outside linebackers, just like during the 2015 season. There is little reason for Simon not to be on the roster for the near future; he has a place on the defense but they are in specific defensive spots for him, close to the line of scrimmage in the base defense. 

One thing that has to happen is that Romeo Crennel has to find a way for Mercilus and Clowney to coexist on the field at the same time and where they both are in their best spots. It was no secret that Mercilus was more productive without Clowney on the field and with the investment made in Clowney, he has to play. 

The Texans are fortunate to have three edge players who could be under contract for the next three seasons with no real issues. With that said, the Texans usually keep four on the active roster during the season and this could be the time to bring in a veteran presence to help the pass rush game or turn to a draft pick who is raw but has a high ceiling to develop while Mercilus, Clowney, and Simon continue to take the bulk of the defensive snaps.

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